Clarissa was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. She credits her family with providing her strength and support at that time. After she beat cancer, Clarissa decided to go back to college and pursue art professionally. She enrolled as a freshman at UNO in 2007, at age 65. She wanted a true college experience, so she was happy to walk to class on campus with the rest of the students.
Clarissa attended art history, which she loved, but was disappointed with the lack of black artists – especially black female artists. She began doing her own research, learning about black women artists in all fields- fine art, sculpture, architecture, invention, etc. This research eventually became the basis for her first book, “I Have a Voice.”
Clarissa graduated from UNO with BA in Fine Arts in 2014 at the age of 75! She calls it “one of the most fulfilling journeys” of her life.
Afterwards, she teamed up with her daughter, Shawn Love-Bradley, to combine her research and her art into “I Have a Voice”. The book features short biographies of black American women, with portraits by Clarissa and an accompanying poem by Shawn. The forward describes the book as a “journey of Black American females from slavery to the present who have made a significant impact in this society and in the world, yet who the world hardly knows anything about.” Clarissa and Shawn’s book was published in 2019 and is available for purchase here: https://store.currybrotherspublishing.com/i-have-a-voice.
In 2020, Clarissa was diagnosed with cancer again, resulting in a lumpectomy. This time around, she felt more alone, with no significant other and her children older and no longer local. She heard about A Time to Heal while in chemotherapy. She asked about support options and was directed to Survivorship 101. She calls the class “medicine for the heart and soul”.
At first, she was a bit nervous about the virtual format – now, she calls it a godsend for people like her with limited transportation options, or those with temporary or permanent physical disabilities from treatment.
She greatly enjoyed connecting with everyone in the program and appreciated being able to talk to other survivors about their similar experiences. Clarissa found that people who have had cancer were “on the same page” even if their stories were a little different.
Clarissa wanted to mention My Sister’s Keeper, a support group here in Omaha. My Sister’s Keeper is the first and only support group for women of color who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the area. The group provides support, advocacy, and education regarding breast cancer as it relates to women of color, as well as a safe environment where women of color can share their survival stories, learn about their treatment options, and find allies in their battle against breast cancer. Clarissa called it a “wonderful organization” especially for black women in the city, who might not have other community support. If you would like to learn more about My Sister’s Keeper, please visit their website: https://www.mysisterskeepernebraska.org/.
Clarissa is currently cancer free. Her second battle with cancer has inspired her to write a second book, about historical women “passing the baton” to their successors in the next generation.
You can purchase a copy of “I have a Voice” at: https://store.currybrotherspublishing.com/i-have-a-voice.